GUN POWDER DAY
119, Verse 38
For your servant, fulfill your promise made to those who FEAR you.
Psalm, the longest by far in the Psalter, praises God for giving such splendid
laws and instruction for people to live by. The psalm glorifies and thanks God
for the Torah, prays for protection from sinners enraged by others’ fidelity to
the law, laments the cost of obedience, delights in the law’s consolations,
begs for wisdom to understand the precepts, and asks for the rewards of keeping
them. The Psalm is fascinated with God’s word directing and guiding human life.
The poem is an acrostic; its twenty-two stanzas (of eight verses each) are in
the order of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the eight verses within a stanza
begins with the same letter. Each verse contains one word for “instruction.”
The translation here given attempts to translate each Hebrew word for
“instruction” with the same English word. There are, however, nine words for
“instruction,” not eight, so the principle of a different word for
“instruction” in each verse cannot be maintained with perfect consistency. The
nine words for “instruction” in the translation are: law, statute, commandment,
precept, testimony, word, judgment, way, and promise.
"On Friday during Holy Communion,
He said these words to His unworthy slave, if I mistake not: I promise you in
the excessive mercy of my Heart that its all-powerful love will grant to all
those who receive Holy Communion on nine first Fridays of consecutive months
the grace of final repentance; they will not die under my displeasure or
without receiving their sacraments, my divine Heart making itself their assured
refuge at the last moment."
With regard to this promise it may be
(1) that our Lord
required Communion to be received on a particular day chosen by Him.
(2) that the nine
Fridays must be consecutive.
(3) that they must be
made in honor of His Sacred Heart, which means that those who make the nine
Fridays must practice the devotion and must have a great love for our Lord.
(4) that our Lord
does not say that those who make the nine Fridays will be dispensed from any of
their obligations or from exercising the vigilance necessary to lead a good
life and overcome temptation; rather He implicitly promises abundant graces to
those who make the nine Fridays to help them to carry out these obligations and
persevere to the end.
(5) that perseverance
in receiving Holy Communion for nine consecutive First Fridays helps the
faithful to acquire the habit of frequent Communion, which our Lord eagerly
(6) that the practice
of the nine Fridays is very pleasing to our Lord since He promises such great
reward, and that all Catholics should endeavor to make the nine Fridays.
Known as Guy Fawkes Night or Fireworks Night, Gunpowder Day focuses on the plot by
Guy Fawkes and other conspirators to blow up Britain’s parliament in 1605.
Rebelling against the persecution of Catholics by King James I, they planned to
kill the monarch during his visit to parliament. But the scheme was foiled, and
the traitors executed. Families construct an effigy of Guy Fawkes to be burned
on a bonfire that evening. Fireworks are also set off to add to the
celebrations. Public displays are also held, and the biggest celebration of
Gunpowder Day is in Lewes in East Sussex, England. Six bonfire societies host
their own fireworks displays and gargantuan bonfires. After sunset, a large
procession of all of the societies moves through Lewes. Many members carry
flame torches and a river of fire can be seen flowing through the town during
Smell the smoke? Don't
forget to pray for the Poor Souls in
Purgatory from November 1 to the 8th.
Hatred of All Things Catholic
The Gunpowder Plot is debated to this day. Some see it as a widespread Catholic plot instigated and led by the Jesuit priests living underground in England—much like it was painted in the 1606 trials of the conspirators. Others argue that there was no conspiracy at all; it was a government-inspired fabrication created by double-agents to use in the propaganda war against Catholics. Conspiracy theories aside, here’s what we know of the Gunpowder Plot. It began in an atmosphere of harsh anti-Catholic persecution. After the excommunication of Queen Elizabeth in 1570 and the threatened invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588, Catholics were viewed with suspicion in England. They were an alien force that could rise up at any moment on papal orders, overthrow the Crown and eradicate English Protestantism. Or at least that was the excuse. While English leadership would always argue that its concern with Catholicism was purely political and not based on religious beliefs, in fact it harbored a deep hatred of all things Catholic.
As the 17th century began, a
host of harsh legal penalties punished Catholics in England for practicing
their faith. Mass could not be legally celebrated anywhere. Those laity caught
attending a clandestine Mass could face heavy fines or jail. Priests caught
saying Mass—or simply exposed as priests—were jailed, deported, or executed as
traitors. Even rosary beads were considered contraband. Children could not be
baptized or married according to Catholic rites. Every person over the age of
16 was required to attend the local Protestant Church every Sunday or face
heavy fines. Mass, therefore, was said in secret in private homes by priests
who were hidden by the Catholic community itself. Those Catholics willing—and
able—paid the fines for not attending Protestant services. Others remained
Catholic at heart, attending Mass when they could, but went to Protestant
services either because they could not afford the fines or because they feared
Hopes Raised—and Dashed
But by the turn of the 17th century, many within the English Catholic community
had some hope for relief. With childless Queen Elizabeth growing older, they
pinned their hopes on a successor that would lift these onerous restrictions.
While some daydreamed of a Catholic prince or princess from the Continent—a
foreign invasion by an alliance of Catholic sovereigns—others fixed their hopes
on King James VI of Scotland. Son of Mary Queen of Scots, whom many believed to
be a martyr for the faith after her execution in 1587 for allegedly plotting to
overthrow Elizabeth, James was the most likely successor. He was married to a
Catholic convert, Anne of Denmark, and rumors swirled within Catholic circles
(including the Holy See) that James might be open to conversion himself, or at
the very least open to Catholic toleration. James did absolutely nothing to
discourage such rumors and, particularly with the papacy, encouraged them.
After James, while in Scotland, misled Pope Clement VIII about his potential
conversion, the pope certainly looked favorably on him. So, when Elizabeth died
on March 24, 1603, and James was formally declared her successor, Catholic
hopes soared. Such hopes dimmed almost immediately, however, as Catholics
noticed that, in honor of his succession, the new King James granted routine
pardons to everyone but murderers and Catholics. When the first Parliament of
his reign was called for the spring of 1604, King James made his position on
Catholics very clear. In February of 1604 he demanded that all priests be
thrown out of his realm, and in March he complained bitterly of alleged
Catholic growth to Protestant leaders. In April a bill was introduced to class
all Catholics as outlaws.
Clever like a Fawkes
A younger generation of
Catholics in England had grown up with Elizabeth’s persecution and the hope for
relief under her successor. Sick of a world where advancement could only come
through denying the faith, a small number had become truly militant. They
longed for a new Spanish invasion after the disastrous defeat of the Spanish
Armada. Among those who travelled to Spain in the hopes of securing a promised
invasion was a young soldier named Guy Fawkes. Once James was enthroned and a
Protestant succession secured through his heirs, the desperation among these young
Catholics only grew. The Spanish, looking to end the age of conflict with
England, were making it clear through negotiations with the new monarch that
they were willing to sell out their fellow English Catholics. The pope, who had
also made his desire for peace known, disapproved any acts of violence. The
Jesuits in England made very clear that they supported the papal position. By
and large, this reflected the position of English Catholics. Though their hopes
were dashed by the apparent hostility of King James to Catholic toleration,
they knew that any violence would only make a bad situation intolerable. The
Bye Plot of 1603, a scheme to hold the king in the Tower of London until he
granted Catholic toleration, had involved disgruntled Catholics. But the Plot
was nipped primarily because underground Jesuit priests tipped off the
government. King James was so grateful that he extended some pardons to a few
Catholics jailed for their faith. In May 1604, a group of disaffected young
Catholics held a meeting. Abandoned by Spain, the plotters believed that every
peaceable means had been tried and failed. The decision was made to blow up
King James and his Parliament, a plan they believed would lead to a foreign
invasion, a Catholic uprising, or the restoration of a Catholic monarchy. After
making their pledge, they attended a Mass celebrated by a Jesuit priest who was
completely ignorant of what had taken place. Parliament was suspended out of
fear of the plague, so the handful of plotters spent their time drawing a few
more into the conspiracy. Fawkes began to stockpile gunpowder in the cellar of
a house that extended under the Parliament building. In a world overrun with
spies and double-agents, Fawkes was already known to English authorities as a
Catholics Reveal the Plot
In late June of 1605, Fr. Henry Garnet heard the
confession of another Jesuit priest, who revealed to him the outline of a plot
that had been confessed to him earlier. Horrified, Fr. Garnet—who could not
reveal what he knew because of the seal of the confessional—wrote to Rome
asking the new pope, Paul V, for a blanket papal condemnation of violence. When
it was announced that Parliament would be delayed again, Fr. Garnet believed
that the danger had passed. He was mistaken. The plotters proceeded, even when
an anonymous letter was sent to a Catholic lord, warning him to stay away when
Parliament opened in the fall. The lord passed the letter on to Robert Cecil,
Earl of Salisbury, secretary of state to Elizabeth and King James, and a
persecutor of all things Catholic. On November 1, 1605, Cecil informed the king
of the mysterious letter. The cellar under Westminster was searched, cords of
firewood to ignite the blast were discovered, and Fawkes, found skulking about,
was arrested. The rest of the conspirators fled. The Gunpowder Plot was foiled.
The core conspirators were tracked down and a number were killed in an ambush.
The survivors were arrested. It was at this point that Cecil began his campaign
to recast the Gunpowder Plot as a Jesuit conspiracy, though the Jesuits in
England had been outspoken against violence. Taking advantage of the paranoia
after the plot was revealed, Cecil made certain that the Gunpowder Plot was not
viewed as a conspiracy by a handful of fanatical Catholics. Instead, it became
a vast Catholic intrigue against the throne and English Protestantism caused by
"the perfidious and cursed doctrine of Rome." The Venetian ambassador
described the anti-Catholic talk that was everywhere in London: "Here they
attend to nothing else but great preparation for the annihilation of the
Annihilate the Catholics
After the original plotters
were executed, a virtual program against Catholics began, focusing on the
Jesuits. Fr. Garnet was eventually arrested, tortured, and executed on
trumped-up charges of complicity. He refused to renounce the faith and was
venerated as a martyr for generations. Though never formally canonized, to this
day many believe him to be a saint. The impact of the Gunpowder Plot on English
thinking was so great that not until 1828 would Catholics be finally
"emancipated" in England and allowed a full range of common English
rights, including the right to vote. As a point of comparison, in America that
number of years would have denied Catholics the ballot from 1776 to the
incumbent candidacy of the second George Bush.
A few quick points to remember about the Gunpowder Plot:
Prior to his
accession, King James I deceived Catholics about what toleration he would
allow, even misleading the pope about a possible conversion. His duplicity had
its own role in generating the Gunpowder Plot.
The Gunpowder Plot,
although real, was not a widespread Catholic conspiracy. Most Catholics were
horrified when it was discovered, knowing that it would lead to heightened
persecution. That it most assuredly did—over two centuries’ worth.
The actual conspirators
were a small handful of young Catholics. While it cannot be said for certain
what involvement double-agents might have had in an era where men such as
Robert Cecil were creating the world’s first police state in England (aimed
specifically at Catholics), there were young Catholic men willing to engage in
the plot, even if they were duped.
The Jesuits in
England did not devise, guide, or lead the Gunpowder Plot. In fact, they tried
to deter any violence based on the limited knowledge they had of the plot. The
Jesuit superior in England thought he had successfully put the plot to rest.
Cecil’s attack on
the Jesuits was a calculated plot against all things Catholic. His propaganda
campaign was meant to show that the enemy was not limited to the conspirators
in the Gunpowder Plot but comprised the Catholic Church itself.
The Gunpowder Plot
established the climate for the infusion of anti-Catholicism into every aspect
of English life.
The number of
Catholic urban legends created as a result of the Gunpowder Plot is legion.
Standard stereotypes and canards include the conniving Jesuit, priests seducing
innocent women, the sacrament of penance as a tool to "forgive" sin
before the sin has been committed, Catholic plots to overthrow states, Catholics
owing a secular allegiance to the papacy, Catholics as unreliable aliens—the
list goes on and on.
Shortly after the Gunpowder Plot was discovered,
Parliament declared that November 5 would be celebrated annually as a day of
thanksgiving. It became known as "Guy Fawkes Day" and the common
practice was to have bonfires and to burn the pope in effigy—a practice that
continues in parts of England to this day.